Do I have a possible case against my employer for an injury that happened at work?

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Do I have a possible case against my employer for an injury that happened at work?

It was February of this past year that I was unloading a truck at my place of employment. While loads shelves in the warehouse, my legs went numb and I fell over. Luckily I did not hit anything. I went to the ER and they told me to see a spine specialist. After multiple MRI’s and other imaging, it was determined that I had multiple issues with my spine. The doctors laid out a non surgical treatment plan for me involving steroids, injections and other therapies. The biggest one being that I was on a 15 lb or less light duty for work. Multiple times I was placed in position where I had to lift items way past my weight restriction. I addressed this issue to my boss multiple times and he blew it off calling me a wimp and other names. I was scared of losing my job because I have 6 kids at home and I needed the insurance to help with treatments, so I never reported him

to HR. Well, fast forward 2 months and my condition worsened. To the part where surgery was the only option left. I worked up until 2 day prior to my surgery. Multiple times I was put in situations where I was the only guy in the warehouse. And the other associates there working could not lift the items either. Also, our boss has a track record of personally shaming and humiliation of us and corporate has done nothing to help alleviate the situation.

Asked on July 15, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

No, you do not. Even if you chose to do what your boss told you for the best or most understandable of reasons--e.g. "I have 6 kids at home and need the insurance"--you still chose to lift weights in excess of what you were supposed to. You could have refused and potentially taken legal action (e.g. sued, or filed an EEOC complaint) against your employer for not offering you a "reasonable accommodation" to your medical status or condition; however, by agreeing to lift weights you knew were dangerous to you, you were contributorily negligent (that is, careless in a way that contributed to the injury) and also assumed (or took on) the risk of injury, and so are not entitled to compensation. (To oversimplify: if you choose to do what you know is a bad idea, risky, or could injure you, the law does not let you receive compensation for your own poor choice.)
Note that it is not a given that you were entitled to lift less weight while retaining your job--it depends upon whether you could do the core or important elements of your job without lifting more than 15 lbs. An employer has to make changes to your job for your medical condition but only if you can still do the bulk or core of the job. If you can't, then the employer does not need to make those changes--so the employer is not required to put you on "light duty" if there is no light duty you can do while doing the core of your job. The law does not make employees retain or pay people who can't actually do their jobs. So if you can't do your job while not lifting more than 15 lbs, your employer could have required you to keep lifting the greater weights--or you could have quit if you valued your health ahead of your job.


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